Impoverished Haiti making its own Android tablet

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Updated 29 April 2014
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Impoverished Haiti making its own Android tablet

PORT-AU-PRINCE: Better known for producing third-world poverty and political mayhem — as well as a world-class rum — the Western Hemisphere’s least developed country has made a surprising entry into the high-tech world with its own Android tablet.
Sandwiched between textile factories in a Port-au-Prince industrial park next to a slum, a Haitian-founded company has begun manufacturing the low-cost tablet called Sûrtab, a name closely resembling the Haitian Creole for “on the table.”
Unlike the factories next door where low-paid textile workers churn out cheap undergarments for the US market, Sûrtab workers are equipped with soldering irons, not sewing machines.
Dressed in sterile white work clothes, and a hair net, Sergine Brice is proud of her job. “I never imagined I could, one day, make a tablet by myself,” she said.
Unemployed for a year after losing her position in a phone company, Brice, 22, was not sure she had the skills when she took the job after Sûrtab opened last year.
“When I arrived and realized the job deals with electronic components, I was wondering if I would be able to do it. But when I finished my first tablet ... I felt an immense pleasure,” she said.
Her family and friends were skeptical. “None of them believed me,” she said. “Tablets made in Haiti? What are you talking about?” they told her.
“Haitians have in our minds the idea that nothing can be done in this country. I proved that yes, we Haitians have the capacity to do many things,” she said. “It’s not just Americans or Chinese. We’ve got what they’ve got, so we can do it too.”
With $200,000 in start-up funds from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and using imported Asian components, the factory produces three models all with 7-inch (18-cm) screens that run on Google Inc’s Android operation system. They range from a simple wifi tablet with 512 megabytes of RAM for about $100, to a 3G model with 2-gigabytes of memory for $285.
The small factory with 40 employees is a throwback to the 1970s and 1980s when Haiti had a thriving assembly industry, including computer boards, as well as baseballs for US professional teams.
Political turmoil, and a US economic embargo in the 1990s following a military coup, put them out of business.
“A product such as Sûrtab shows that Haitians are not just destined for low-wage, low-skilled jobs,” said John Groarke, country director for USAID. “It’s the sort of high-skilled job that the country needs to work its way out of poverty.”
Brice, who works an eight-hour shift, would not disclose her salary. Sûrtab employees receive a bonus for each tablet that successfully passes the quality control and the company says it pays two to three times the Haitian minimum wage of $5 a day.

INDIVIDUALLY ASSEMBLED
With only a limited selection of expensive imported tablets available in Haiti, Sûrtab is the cheapest device on the market.
“It’s easy to use and it takes really good quality photos, like any other tablet,” said one happy customer, Lisbeth Plantin. “And it’s great to see ‘Made in Haiti’ on the back,” she added.
At the factory there is no production line, instead workers assemble each device from start to finish.
“We could have done like in Asia, one task per employee, which is faster, but we wanted to have a better quality product,” said Diderot Musset, Sûrtab’s production manager.
Depending on the model, it takes an employee between 35 minutes and an hour to make a tablet. The company produces between 4,000 to 5,000 tablets a month, but plans to double that in April.
“We want the parts of the market which are not taken by the big players, especially in developing countries. These people would like to have a tablet but cannot afford an iPad,” he said, referring to the Apple Inc. device that costs at least $300 in US stores and is barely available in Haiti.
All the factory floor employees are women.
“It was not a choice we made but it happens that women have better results. I think women may be more open to learn something completely different from what they were doing before,” Musset said with a smile.
The company is running into inevitable skepticism about the quality of a Haitian-made tablet. “Some people only believe in it when they come here and see the girls working,” he said.
The company has a retail distribution deal in Haiti with Digicel, a global telecom company that dominates the local cellphone market, as well as sales to Haitian government ministries and local non-governmental organizations.
A university in Kenya also ordered 650 Sûrtab devices.
Sûrtab is hoping to diversify its product line beyond tablets, said Patrick Sagna, director of business development.
“We want to establish a presence in the software sector. We are in contact with people from San Francisco who are ready to work with Haitian developers,” he said.
Sûrtab’s investors are looking to build an applied science graduate school, as well as looping in Haiti’s skilled arts and crafts industry to help with design.
“Rather than importing covers for our tablets, we will produce them locally,” said Sagna. “We want our packaging, made with recycled and recyclable materials, to become a traveling cultural exhibition to highlight Haitian culture around the world,” he added.


Elon Musk unveils underground tunnels, offers rides to VIPs

Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., arrives in a modified Tesla Model X electric vehicle during an unveiling event for the Boring Co. Hawthorne test tunnel in Hawthorne, south of Los Angeles, on December 18, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 8 min 13 sec ago
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Elon Musk unveils underground tunnels, offers rides to VIPs

  • The tunnel is just a test to prove the technology works and could one day cure traffic
  • For the privately funded test tunnel, Musk acquired a tunnel-boring machine that had been used in a San Francisco Bay Area project and put it down a shaft in a parking lot at the SpaceX headquarters

LOS ANGELES: Elon Musk unveiled his underground transportation tunnel on Tuesday, allowing reporters and invited guests to take some of the first rides in the revolutionary albeit bumpy subterranean tube — the tech entrepreneur’s answer to what he calls “soul-destroying traffic.”
Guests boarded Musk’s Tesla Model S and rode along Los Angeles-area surface streets about a mile away to what’s known as O’Leary Station. The station, smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood — “basically in someone’s backyard,” Musk says — consists of a wall-less elevator that slowly took the car down a wide shaft, roughly 30 feet (9 meters) below the surface.
The sky slowly fell away and the surprisingly narrow tunnel emerged.
“We’re clear,” said the driver, who sped up and zipped into the tunnel when a red track light turned green, making the tube look like something from space or a dance club.
The car jostled significantly during the ride, which was bumpy enough to give one reporter motion sickness while another yelled, “Woo!“
Musk described his first ride as “epic.”
“For me it was a eureka moment,” he told a room full of reporters. “I was like, ‘This thing is going to damn well work.’“
He said the rides are bumpy now because “we kind of ran out of time” and there were some problems with the speed of his paving machine.
“It’ll be smooth as glass,” he said of future systems. “This is just a prototype. That’s why it’s a little rough around the edges.”
The demo rides were also considerably slower — 40 mph (64 kph) — than what Musk says the future system will run at: 150 mph (241 kph). Still, it took only three minutes to go just over a mile from the beginning to the end of the tunnel, the same amount of time it took to accomplish a right-hand turn out of the parking lot and onto a surface street even before the height of Los Angeles’ notorious rush-hour traffic.
The tunnel is just a test to prove the technology works and could one day cure traffic.
Tuesday’s reveal comes almost two years to the day since Musk announced on Twitter that “traffic is driving me nuts” and he was “going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging.”
“I am actually going to do this,” he added in response to initial skepticism, a Tweet that was blown up and posted near the entrance to the tunnel for Tuesday’s event, along with other Musk tweets like, “Defeating traffic is the ultimate boss battle.”
The tweets were a nod to Musk’s sense of humor. Just after announcing he was creating a tunnel, he began The Boring Company, tongue in cheek intentional. Since his announcement, Musk has only revealed a handful of photos and videos of the tunnel’s progress.
On Tuesday, he explained for the first time in minute detail just how the system, which he simply calls “loop,” could work on a larger scale beneath cities across the globe. Autonomous, electric vehicles could be lowered into the system on wall-less elevators the size of two cars. Such elevators could be placed almost anywhere cars can go.
A number of autonomous cars would remain inside the system just for pedestrians and bicyclists. Once on the main arteries of the system, every car could run at top speed except when entering and exiting.
“It’s much more like an underground highway than it is a subway,” he said. “It’s not like you’re going through a whole series of stops. Nope, the main arteries will be going super fast, and it’s only when you want to get off the loop system that you slow down.”
Musk said he scrapped his previous plan to run the cars on platforms called skates. Instead, the cars would have to be fitted with specially designed side wheels that pop out perpendicular to the car’s regular tires and run along the tunnel’s track. The cost for such wheels would be about $200 or $300 a car, Musk said.
He said tunnels are the safest place to be in earthquakes — sort of like a submarine during a hurricane is safest beneath the surface — and addressed other concerns such as the noise and disruption of building the tunnels, which he completely dismissed. When workers bored through the end of the test tunnel, for instance, the people in the home 20 feet (6 meters) away “didn’t even stop watching TV.”
“The footsteps of someone walking past your house will be more noticeable than a tunnel being dug under your house,” he said,
Musk said it took about $10 million to build the test tunnel, a far cry from the $1 billion per mile his company says most tunnels take to build.
Musk explained just how he’s cutting costs. Measures include improving the speed of construction with smarter tools, eliminating middlemen, building more powerful boring machines, and instead of hauling out all the dirt being excavated, Musk is turning them into bricks and selling them for 10 cents.
He reiterated the simplicity of all his ideas.
“No Nobel Prize is needed here,” he said. “It’s very simple.”
And he’s not doing it for the money, he said, adding that it’s for the greater good.
“Traffic is a blight on everyone’s life in all cities,” he said. “I really think this is incredibly profound. Hopefully that is coming across.”
Steve Davis, head of The Boring Company, said the interest in the tunnel systems has been significant — anywhere from five to 20 calls a week from various municipalities and stakeholders.
One project Musk is planning on, known as the Dugout Loop, would take Los Angeles baseball fans to Dodger Stadium from one of three subway stations. Another would take travelers from downtown Chicago to O’Hare International Airport. Both projects are in the environmental review phase.
The Boring Company canceled its plans for another test tunnel on Los Angeles’ west side last month after a neighborhood coalition filed a lawsuit expressing concerns about traffic and disruptions from trucks hauling out dirt during the boring process.
For the privately funded test tunnel, Musk acquired a tunnel-boring machine that had been used in a San Francisco Bay Area project and put it down a shaft in a parking lot at the SpaceX headquarters.
Already on Tuesday, Musk’s representatives unveiled a new tunnel-boring machine they say they hope to have online soon, one that can bore four times faster than the one they’ve been using.
Musk’s vision for the underground tunnels is not the same as another of his transportation concepts known as hyperloop. That would involve a network of nearly airless tubes that would speed special capsules over long distances at up to 750 mph (1,200) kph), using a thin cushion of air, magnetism and solar power.
The loop system is designed for shorter routes that wouldn’t require the elimination of air friction, according to The Boring Company.